Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monitor offers online commenting

In a column this morning, Executive Editor Felice Belman announced that the Concord Monitor would now allow reader comments on the stories posted on the newspaper's Web site. Now folks can sound off on stories published in the newspaper in real time, instead of writing letters to the editor or calling to complain. Comments online may be included in the print edition in the future. Belman suggests, and I would agree, that folks use their real names, and be respectful and not libelous. Anonymous and semi-anonymous posting tends to bring on the worst in people. We have seen it at our company although, the flip side of that, is that Web hits went through the roof as folks in the community I cover couldn't wait to see what posters would say next [and neither could I]. After implementing a registration system, commenting trailed off to almost nothing.
The Monitor system allows for both anonymous commenting and registered commenting. In order for your message to appear right away, the user must get an account by registering for one. Anonymous comments, the Web site states, can take numerous hours to appear after being approved by a content manager.
While enjoying this new feature posters should realize that even though they may think they are anonymous or semi-anonymous, they actually aren't. Computers can be tracked via IP addresses and corporate tags, especially if your company registers its Internet service. If the Monitor is smart, it has software that will reveal certain information about the computers visiting its site.
So, for example, if you are a city employee and you're unhappy about a story and you post something, you might want to do it from home and not work ... because the Monitor will know when you post [Concord computers come up as "City of Concord" on their IP addresses]. If you work for a big corporation? Ditto. If you use your real name account one time but then post anonymously another time, it isn't anonymous because the IP address would be the same and the person watching the IP addresses will realize this. So, don't do that [There was recently a little scandal over at the political site Blue Hampshire where a woman from the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition created an account with her main email address and then made comments about how she was a registered independent and didn't know much about the Coalition but supported the tax cap. The Blue Hampshire folks tracked her IP address and Goggled her email address and found out who she was pretty quickly].
That all said, I have always supported reader commenting online. In many ways, the public has already made comments about the Monitor in the past, via letters to the editors and shrinking circulation [One city official commenting privately about Aspell's recent report about CCTV and how the Monitor spun the story stated, "Does anyone read the Monitor anymore?"].
This feature though will allow the newspaper's editors and reporters to get an even better understanding of what readers think in real time - especially if people who aren't happy with some of the stories actually take the time to sound off on them immediately.

No comments: